Monday, October 10, 2005

My Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great-Grandfather...

First time I've looked into this in any detail.

I haven't really been into this stuff, and even thought I was a Madhavacharya Brahmin until a female family elder corrected an India travelogue I wrote, noting I'm actually a Vishwamitra Brahmin. Oops. Sorry Auntiejhi. I definitely remember the Gayatri Mantra though like Dad said I had to...

(It's now my "Get out of being a coconut free!" card. Never leave home without it.)

Anyway, we've all got roots, and the information here is courtesy of the good folks at - namaste and shukriyajhi... :)


[Ed note: highlighted text and photos courtesy of]


Vishwamitra - The Friend of the World

Vishwamitra is, in mythic terms, one of the most important rishis of India. His influence is profound and permeates every cranny of the collective consciousness of the Hindus. Vishwamitra is that strange and rare phenomenon - the Hero who becomes an Enlightened Sage. He was a veritable tsunami of Will, storming the gates of heaven and wresting acknowledgement for his spiritual status. Vishwamitra is the highest point of spiritual realization, even the very gods are his inferior. He is also regarded as being not just Chiranjeevi (immortal) but eternal, outside the cycle of cosmic dissolution and creation.

Vishwamitra also as befits a rishi, which literally means "seer", gave to the world the most sacred of all Hindu mantras, the pinnacle called the Gayatri Mantra. His sympathy with the victims of entrenched prejudice, his disdain for convention, his all too human flaw of an explosive temper and above all his ability to recover from his mistakes have endeared him to his people and given him the name of "The Friend of the World." (Vishwa - world; Mitra - friend)

Very little from a historical point of view is known about Vishwamitra. He is traditionally acknowledged to be the rishi who set down the hymns of the third mandala of the Rig Veda, which includes the Gayatri Mantra. That should be enough, but he was obviously of so powerful a personality that the stories about him became plentiful and many ancient texts tried, in giving their versions of his life, to come to terms with this phenomenon. To begin with, he was not even from the Brahmin caste which normally produces sages and seers. He was a warrior, a Kshatriya, and for a long time his spiritual aspirations were regarded as pretentious as well as a cause for hilarity. It did not help that Vishwamitra had a talent for always putting his worst foot forward, and that his fatal flaw, his temper, was always leading him to making wild and extravagant gestures. These were spectacular explosions of spiritual power, but really accomplished sages and masters rightly regarded them as ego-display and refused to grant him his true status as a rishi. This was akin to a martial artist of the seventh or eighth level being told he does not deserve even the first black belt and Vishwamitra did not take kindly to being repressed like this.

At first nobody could have been less likely material for spiritual accomplishments. He was a normal sort of king, Gadhija by name, ruling over Kanya-kubja, content to be known as the toughest warrior of his time, so formidable that he never had to fight any wars. This left him lots of leisure, and he had over a hundred sons from his many wives. One fateful day his entourage wandered into the hermitage of the Brahma-rishi [highest stage of spiritual accomplishment] Vashistha and his world turned upside down. For the sage had a wish-fulfilling cow called Kamdhenu and using her powers he was able to entertain the royal party in a style that aroused the king's envy. When bribery and cajolement failed, Vishwamitra, like kings everywhere, decided to invoke royal prerogative and seize the animal. Vashistha was used to deference from the very gods, and his angry manifestation of powers soon vaporized the royal forces, including the sons of the king. This act led to a never resolved, implacable enmity between the two men. Vishwamitra came forward to do battle but he too was routed.

Vishwamitra was still enough of a warrior to think that he had lost because he did not have enough firepower. He went off to the Himalayas to perform severe penances and austerities - called tapasya - to win divine weapons from Shiva. This was his true métier, for nobody before or after has ever performed such tapasya, but the man was still operating on old mental patterns. An amused Shiva gave him the weapons, an act of great significance, for the sage would in later ages teach them to the incarnation of Vishnu called Rama. The angry king went back for round two against Vashistha and fared no better. Each and every one of his divine weapons was absorbed by Vashistha's meditation crutch. It was a revelation as to the limitations of material power. Now his entire being became absorbed by the thought that he had to rival Vashistha in spiritual stature.

His gigantic will was eminently suited to such endeavors. He also had a queen, unnamed in the texts, who was his genuine source of strength and of course was taken for granted nevertheless. She seems to have followed him from the palace to the hermitage and made his life less bitter and corrosive but we do not know who this extraordinary lady was. It was to her that he made a remarkable statement when frenziedly poring over texts written by his great rival. She wanted him to observe how brightly the moon was shining, whereupon he said, "But ten thousand times more brightly does the intellect of Vashistha shine". He could recognize genuine quality when he saw it, even if it was his enemy. He even had some more sons during this initial period of tapasya. His austerities were so powerful that it alarmed the gods and they decided he needed to be placated with some sort of recognition. In Hindu myth, powers developed by tapasya enable you to replace the ruling class in heaven with your own self, so this was a dangerous situation. Brahma, the creator god, granted him the rank of Raja-rishi, a royal sage. It was a brush-off and Vishwamitra was not foolish enough to fall for it.

At this point he pulled off one of his most celebrated exploits. A king called Trishanku wanted to ascend to heaven while still in the mortal body. Dissuasion by sages and gurus only made this desire into a monomania until some angry sages cursed him to become an outcaste. Vishwamitra, always on the side of aspirations to achievement, furious at this degradation of fellow royalty by pompous Brahmins, promised to get the king into heaven. He held a grand fire sacrifice which should have culminated in the gods granting this plea. When it was refused, he showed why he was called "The Tiger amongst Rishis", for he used his spiritual energies to hoist Trishanku into space and into the gates of a bewildered heaven. The angry gods hurled him back, but by now Vishwamitra had taken it personally and he froze the poor man in space and set about creating a new heaven and new constellations to go with it. Brahma as usual had to step in and promise Trishanku entry into heaven as well as the acceptance of the new stars in the sky! What else could they do? As a Raja-rishi, the sage had proved unstoppable. The gods were panic stricken at the thought of what he might do if he ever became a Brahma-rishi.

Vishwamitra did not accept this consolation prize supinely. He went in for even more arduous tapasya. His attitude was unbeatable. He would not ask for his due, he would over-perform to such an extent that he could not be denied. His spiritual power grew so rapidly that he was soon acknowledged as a rishi, the first non-Brahmin to ever break through the ranks of exclusivity. Completely unsatisfied with that he intensified his austerities to inhuman levels and the sheer power filling his being caused his body to emanate smoke that began to choke creation. (Hindu myth never settles for plausibility when hyperbole will do). When Brahma arrived to grant him the status of Maha-rishi - the Great Sage, an irascible Vishwamitra said in no uncertain terms that he was being cheated of his due - his status as a Brahma-rishi. The god explained that while he had gained supreme mastery over all other aspects of human existence his temper was still an independent life form. A wrathful Brahma-rishi was a contradiction in terms.

For once our hero took criticism gracefully and he conceded the point. He withdrew even further into the Himalayas and increased his quest. By now the king of the gods, Indra, was in open panic. Since the dawn of creation no such tapasya had been seen, and a logical reward to distract Vishwamitra from asking for Brahma-rishi status was to make him king of heaven. He pulled out that old standby of the gods, the supernatural beauty of the Apsaras, heavenly maidens who were as much weapons in the arsenal as rewards for good living. Menaka got the assignment of distracting the sage with her allurements and she succeeded for a while. This is by far the most popular myth in all India, rapidly ascending to the level of a working archetype. The seduction from the spiritual by the enticements of beauty form a theme that popular art never tires of, and in mild or raunchy variations it remains a staple sequence of films. It is the perfect encapsulation of the Indian dilemma, whether to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh or go for the spiritual brass ring. Vishwamitra is a popular hero precisely because he managed to achieve both aspects. That is what people would like to be possible, spiritual success but after you have your fun, and with no price to be paid for such dalliance. Even Saint Augustine used to pray in a similar vein, "Oh God, grant me chastity and continence - but not just yet!"

After a few years however Menaka gave birth to a daughter, Shakuntala, and the shocked rishi realized he had collaborated in being led astray. Menaka is unique in myth for having crossed the tiger and getting away unscathed. Shakuntala's son, Bharat, became the first emperor of India and the country is still named Bharat after him so Vishwamitra is one of the founding fathers so to speak. Many years later another Apsara, Rambha, was sent to replicate the distraction but this time the sage was not only alert, he cursed her to turn into stone for 10,000 years. After which, no more attempts at celestial seductions were made.

Vishwamitra made a final push for Brahma-rishi status, abandoning food altogether. By now his tapasya had become so formidable that creation was literally rocking on its foundations. Indra made a last attempt to provoke the astringent tiger. Just as Vishwamitra was about to break his fast he turned up as a beggar professing great hunger. The etiquette was to feed the guest and Vishwamitra did so and did not say a word even when the wily Indra ate up all that was available. The king of the gods acknowledged that Vishwamitra had achieved complete control of himself and, in sheer exhaustion more than anything else, they granted him the rank of Brahma- rishi. At this point, Vishwamitra insisted that his old rival Vashistha acknowledge him as a Brahma-rishi too, which the other sage was only too willing to do. Through sheer will and manifestation of ability he had forced the universe to acknowledge his spiritual primacy.

A Brahma-rishi is immortal so Vishwamitra turns up in every era of Indian myth. One of his less known acts was to prevent a human sacrifice. A young lad of accomplishments called Shunashepa was being sacrificed to rid the king of gout, and his parents were actively collaborating in this act because of the reward. The shock and trauma of being betrayed in this primary relationship caused Shunashepa to achieve enlightenment as he was freed of all limiting concepts like family and human relationships. He began to chant sacred hymns that had been revealed to him while still tied to the post. These hymns are part of the Rig Veda. Vishwamitra turned up at that opportune moment, instantly recognized the boy had become a rishi and put an end to all this superstitious ritual. He also adopted the boy as his own son, stating the parents had forfeited their claims with this brutality, the first recognition in the Indian mind that parents are not always perfect.

It is a greater achievement than it may seem, for the right of parents to dispose of their children as they deemed fit was a vital pillar of the social value system. Any suggestion to the contrary still causes great anxiety and powerful punitive backlashes so it was nothing short of a revolution when Vishwamitra untied the boy. He never cared about convention; his dedication was only to what was true. Once in a great famine, he ate some dog meat. Aghast protests were raised at such unseemly behavior from a Brahma-rishi but his answer was a classic of good sense. "First one must stay alive. Then one can philosophize." Brahma-rishis do not need to eat, being immortal; he deliberately performed this act of provocation to teach some people a lesson. Such flamboyantly independent thinking is a miracle in its own right in an India always bound by social codes and the people took warmly to this unusual rishi.

In an interesting episode the great Swami Vivekananda had a vision in 1899 wherein he saw Vishwamitra meditating in a river at the moment the Gayatri Mantra was revealed to him. As a consequence the meter of chanting the Gayatri was changed by the Swami to bring it into accordance with how he had heard Vishwamitra chant it. It is an intriguing footnote as to how the spirit of the Friend of the World still influences the spiritual climate.

- Rohit Arya



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Blogger Black Krishna said...

Thanks folks, I look forward to putting in work checking your sites, please keep 'em coming. Feel free to tell your friends about mine, you can also reprint anything you want anywhere you want preferably with a basic nod to the original source.

I've got about 5 years of work to do right now with new stuff poppin' up every day, and the combo of serving the raw-info and the raw-tools to make us strong enough to independently come up with solutions is a balancing act I'm enjoying, I hope it plays out. Everyone I know freely admits the world is going to hell, and yet most have a resigned attitude about what we can do to stop it.

I blame the mass-media for turning us into powerless pussies, and for demonizing the internet to the point where we can't look at it without being skeptical of passionate peeps with a point. They're scaring us just enough to crave the shit their commercials are selling as a panacea, and carving the heart out of any still-beating tragedy while leaving us to gaze dumbly at skeleton-stories.

As Professor Noam Chomsky said, to understand an organization you have to look at it's structure, and the news clearly sells a product: consumers to advertisers.

I swear watching the 11 pm broadcast yesterday at a friends place was a joke, with four natural disasters and German and Polish politics filling the hour. All I saw were nightmarish platitudes bereft of any contextualizing science or push for predictability when it comes to understanding the earth falling apart; the rise of One-Party Rule (again!) in the Reichland - look for the long-delayed sequel; and open cheerleading for the "pro-business" right-wing Polakandidate to finally eradicate that pesky-Lefty holding it down for the average Polesitter.

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I said "No."

He said "What?"

I said "Hell no!"

Why the hell are WE screwed?

Our friends?

Our family?

Our generation?

Just so God could arbitrarily pick and choose to mess with all of us irrespective of our guilt or innocence?

Hell no.

This makes no sense.

Now, I don't bug God a lot. He gave me a good brain, good looks, and good opportunities to capitalize on, so really, I ain't gonna bug Him for nothing. (Or Her.)

The cool-coincidences I chalk up to early Christmas bonuses and take 'em in stride, He can do his thing, I'll do mine, and I think we're on the same page anyway with people as my preferred proof.

I also don't think it's right to get our asses in a multi-million-dollar Church with a half-million-dollar organ and bug God just because we've supposedly got the resources to get His attention more than others do.

What - we deserve his help more than some 10 year old soldier with an empty AK-47 scared shitless of getting shot in The Sudan?

That's crazy.

I was at Christmas Eve for Midnight Mass one year at The Vatican, and greatly admired the grandeur and beauty of St. Peter's Basilica. I even embraced the power of people praying, and felt the energy fill the building.

But, in any logical world they don't have a monopoly on magic, and they certainly don't have any moral hierarchy just because they've got the cash to sell us they do. That's crazy too, and they've been exposed as just as human as anyone else - in some cases less so.

Where's The Pope's stinging rebuke of the torture of innocent Muslims? What - do we have a repeat of the Catholic Church's silence during The Holocaust? Are they convinced this is just part of "The Rapture"? Do they still believe in "The Crusades" or "Clash of Civilizations" in order to eradicate heretics and prepare the Holy Land for Jesus return? Do they expect The Son of God to say "Thanks!" for the premeditated deaths of billions of God's children due to war, famine, disaster and disease? Is the murder of Jesus' sisters and brothers the best way to prepare for His big coming-back party?

Either God's a real prick, or...


Holdin' it down for good ol' Great (x8) Grampa, I say Fuck the Gods: if this ain't the world we wanna live in, then maybe we need new ones, or at least some new sales-reps...

Peace, (NOW!!!)



Black Krishna Brand

Philosophy -

Music -


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